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War Against The Panthers:
A Study Of Repression In America 

HUEY P. NEWTON / Doctoral Dissertation / UC Santa Cruz 1jun1980

 

WAR AGAINST THE PANTHERS:
A STUDY OF REPRESSION IN AMERICA

A Dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the
requirements for the degree of:

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
in
HISTORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS

by
Huey P. Newton

June 1980

PREFACE

 

There has been an abundance of material to draw upon in researching and writing this dissertation. Indeed, when a friend recently asked me how long I had been working on it, I almost jokingly replied, "Thirteen years—since the Party was founded." 1 Looking back over that period in an effort to capture its meaning, to collapse time around certain significant events and personalities requires an admitted arbitrariness on my part. Many people have given or lost their lives, reputations, and financial security because of their involvement with the Party. I cannot possibly include all of them, so I have chosen a few in an effort to present, in C. Wright Mills' description, "biography as history."2

This dissertation analyzes certain features of the Party and incidents that are significant in its development. Some central events in the growth of the Party, from adoption of an ideology and platform to implementation of community programs, are first described. This is followed by a presentation of the federal government's response to the Party. Much of the information presented herein concentrates on incidents in Oakland, California, and government efforts to discredit or harm me. The assassination of Fred Hampton, an important leader in Chicago, is also described in considerable detail, as are the killings of Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter and John Huggins in Los Angeles. Supporting evidence for a great deal of this dissertation has come from two federal civil rights lawsuits filed by the Party: one initiated in 1976 in Washington, D.C., and still pending against the FBI and other federal agency officials,3 and another which ended after a nine-month trial in Chicago, Illinois.4

It is logical that Oakland, California, should be the focus of hostile government actions against the Party because it is the place where the Party was founded, and it is the center of its organizational strength. In discussing Party leaders, including myself, and events in which they were involved, there has been a persistent temptation to write personally and emotionally. Individuals, with all their strengths and weaknesses, make significant differences in the outcome of political struggles; however, their roles are too often romanticized, clouding an understanding of the political forces propelling them into struggle. I have tried to maintain an objectivity consistent with scholarly standards by placing the roles of the involved personalities in proper political perspective. To aid in this effort, I will be referred to throughout this study in the third person. This dissertation is then, by necessity, illustrative, not exhaustive; a history in brief, not a biography of the Black Panther Party [BPP].

What is perhaps most significant about [this study] is that it suggests how much we still do not know. How many people's lives were ruined in countless ways by a government intent on destroying them as representatives of an "enemy" political organization? What "tactics" or "dirty tricks" were employed, with what results? Perhaps we shall never know the answers to these questions, but this inquiry about the BPP and the federal government will hopefully help us in our search for "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."


1 The Black Panther Party is referred to throughout this dissertation as "The Party," "the Panthers," and "the BPP." All [these] terms are used interchangeably and refer to the same organization.

2 C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (New York: Grove Press, 1961), p. 173.

3 On January 25, 1980 the court dismissed our lawsuit because we refused to disclose the names and addresses of BPP members and provide additional information concerning criminal charges ending against certain members. We did provide the government with the names and addresses of all Central Committee members, i.e., the governing body of the Party, who are publicly known. Since the purpose of our lawsuit was to seek redress against unlawful government actions a gains our members, we had an obligation to protect their right of anonymity as an integral part of [a] minority political association that seeks through litigation to halt the government from illegally harassing its members. This will now be resolved by an appellate court. The Black Panther Party v. Levi, No. 76-2205, U.S. Dist. Ct. (D.C.). See also, San Francisco Chronicle, 26 January 1980, p. 2, col. 2.

4 Iberia Hampton v. City of Chicago, No. 70-C-1384, U.S. Dist. Ct. (N.D. I11., 1977). On June 2, 1980, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way to reopen this case.

 

I. INTRODUCTION

From the point of its founding, democratic government in the United States of America has faced the challenging need to overcome certain obstacles inherent in both its organization and general structure before many of its basic assumptions could be actualized.1 Learned and astute observers of the founding and development of American democracy noted the threatening nature of a number of these obstacles during the early days of the new republic.2 The study proposed here finds its importance and justification in the concept that several of the original problems of American democracy have endured with increasing ominous consequences for the full realization of democratic government in the United States. In particular, two of the most crucial problems which have hindered the development of truly democratic government in America are treated here:

1. class and racial cleavages, which have historically been the source of division and bitter antagonism between sectors of American society, and

2. the inherent and longstanding distrust held by the American ruling class of any institutionalized democracy involving the mass population.3

The continuing existence of these two problems—compounded, of course, by companion evils—has from one time to another enlarged and set in motion a debilitating dialectic which has kept full democracy at bay, and the very fabric of American society in rather constant peril. What is hoped for here is an examination of specific responses and events related to the aforementioned major problems that is capable of shedding an enlightening beacon of light on the nature and progression of maladies related to these problems and what is thereby portended for American society in terms of present results and future possibilities. There is, in other words, the intent to forge an analysis capable of informing and instructing those who are devoted to and must continue to grapple with these outstanding problems, problems in need of being resolved if ever democratic government in America is to achieve any degree of substance consistent with its theoretical suppositions and ideals.

The first problem in American democracy set forth here was offered the summary justification by the Founding Fathers that it was a "limited" representative or republican form of democracy that was best suited and most desirable for the new country's governance.4 This intent, "limited" though it is, was mocked by the peculiar contradiction that the populace to be served by the new government included sizeable sectors which were not to be regarded as beneficiaries of even the most "limited" promise of democracy. African Americans, Native Americans, and, to a lesser extent, women were never presumed to be within the pale of either hopes or guarantees related to the practice of democracy. This marked exclusion in the idealism of America's founders might well be regarded as the original wellspring of dissent in America, for what is all too apparent is the fact that democracy is a dynamic and infectious idea. It is an idea which inspires the hope of universal inclusion. Thus, it may subsequently have been predicted that the arbitrary, capricious, and sinister exclusion of large sectors of the American population from the hopes inspired by the rhetoric of a fledgling democracy would give rise to the most determined forms of human struggle imaginable, including those which resort to force of arms, and resolve to face death before capitulation. The deliberately designed and nurtured class and racial cleavages of American society, present from its beginning, have fostered such extreme antagonisms during every period in the development of American society.5

This study draws upon a course of events taking place during the latter half of the twentieth century, which exemplifies the ultimate form of struggle born of this contrived contradiction, a contradiction which is as old as the life of the American republic itself. The contradiction which provides much of the source material for this study would doubtless have never existed nor reached such dastardly and volatile proportions if it were not for the societalwide ingestion of a class—and racially-biased social philosophy, which stemmed from the original premise of American social organization, a deeply ingrained belief that society [is] by nature divided into superior and inferior classes and races of people. This vision of the "natural order" of society, rationalized by those who have a vested interest in its maintenance, has kept Americans of different classes and races either directly engaged in social warfare, or forever poised in a position of battle. There has been, in other words, from the very beginning of the American republic as we know it, a systematically cultivated polarization, which has predisposed the population to varying but continuous levels of warfare. This sinister and carefully maintained die of social antagonism has been recast with the changing mold of each different epoch of American society.

Always, the rulers of an order, consistent with their own interests and solely of their own design, have employed what to them seemed to be the most optimal and efficient means of maintaining unquestioned social and economic advantage.6 Clear-cut superiority in things social and economic—by whatever means—has been a scruples-free premise of American ruling class authority from the society's inception to the present. The initial socioeconomic advantage, begotten by chattel slavery, was enforced by undaunted violence and the constant threat of more violence. In other times, there has been political repression, peonage (debt slavery), wage slavery, chicanery, and the like, but always accompanied by the actual or threatened force of violence.

The import of the combined forces of industrialization and urbanization [has] been [a] principal contributor in the twentieth century to the need of the American ruling class to develop newer, less obvious, and more effective means of retaining its control of and domination over the mass of Americans. Direct and unconcealed brute force and violence—although clearly persisting in many quarters of society—are today less acceptable to an increasingly sophisticated public, a public significantly remote from the methods of social and economic control common to early America. This is not a statement, however, that there is such increased civility that Americans can no longer tolerate social control of the country's under classes by force of violence; rather, it is an observation that Americans today appear to be more inclined to issue endorsement to agents and agencies of control which carry out the task, while permitting the benefactors of such control to retain a semidignified, clean-hands image of themselves. This attitude is very largely responsible for the rise of the phenomenon to which systematic attention is given in the study undertaken here: the rise in the 1960s of control tactics heavily reliant upon infiltration, deliberate misinformation, selective harassment, and the use of the legal system to quell broad based dissent and its leadership.7

Such tactics are, of course, closely identified with the presidency and administration of Richard M. Nixon, although many of these tactics were used prior to the Nixon years.8 However, it was under the leadership of Nixon that Americans in their majority—when they were confronted by widespread protest over both domestic and foreign policies—issued to the government and its agencies what appeared to be blanket approval of the squelching of dissent by means legal or illegal. This led inexorably to a vast and pernicious campaign of no-holds-barred conspiracies and extralegal acts designed by law enforcement agencies to "neutralize", contain, and/or destroy organizations and individuals thought to be "enemies" of the American government (or the status quo), merely because they dared to disagree openly with the existing order and its policies. Such campaigns were tragically successful in too many cases for too many years before Americans began to realize the true extent of the victimization.

It is a fundamental assertion of this study that the majority society, in its fear-provoked zeal to maintain and assure its inequitable position in American society, flirted with and came dangerously close to total abandonment of the particular freedom upon which all others are ultimately dependent, the right to disagree. Moreover, it is an ancillary claim of this study that the danger has not yet passed, for few if any of society's major problems have been solved, and a large number of Americans seem yet inclined to believe that special treatment and different rules can be applied to Americans who dare to disagree without consequence for those who are in agreement with the powers and policies that be. This [belief] is to be specifically denied, and the claim to be made is that repression of selected sectors of mass society is extremely difficult to carry out, if not impossible, without a resulting loss of cherished freedoms for the entire society.9 This premise constitutes a seminal focal point and objective of the analysis to be undertaken.

 

A. The Importance of the Problem

The Black Panther Party (BPP) was formed in this country in 1966 as an organization of Black and poor persons embracing a common ideology, identified by its proponents as "revolutionary intercommunalism.10 Since its inception, the Party has been subject to a variety of actions by agencies and officers of the federal government intended to destroy it politically and financially. It is the major contention of this dissertation that this official effort to destroy the BPP was undertaken precisely because of the Party's political ideology, and potential for organizing a sizeable group of the country's population that has been historically denied equal opportunity in employment, education, housing, and other recognized basic needs. A corollary to this theory is that governmental efforts at destruction of the Party, successful in varying degrees, were only thwarted or held in abeyance when they reached their logical consequence: destruction of the right of dissent for all groups, a right indispensable to the functioning of a democratic society.

The method employed to substantiate this theory is an examination of numerous measures undertaken by the government to, in the words of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize" the BPP.11 For the most part, records and documents of relevant government agencies initiating and participating in this campaign of destruction against the BPP provide the evidentiary basis for the dissertation. These records and documents, many revealed herein publicly for the first time, have been discovered in litigation between the BPP and government agencies, as well as through congressional investigations, scholarly studies, and media reports. In addition, firsthand knowledge of the author as a witness or participant to certain events, interviews with persons knowledgeable about relevant matters, and secondary sources of information (e.g., other studies and news reports) are used and identified. Most of the evidence of government efforts to destroy the Party focuses on the FBI because it was the major known offender in terms of intensity and severity of actions, but brief sections on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are also included.

The result of this study is an analysis of what happened, and still can happen, to a dissident political organization that explicitly challenges the policies and practices of a government intent on controlling the pace and degree of integration for a sizeable group of persons seeking equal socioeconomic participation. Moreover, this study shows the lengths to which, so far at least, a government can go in a constitutional democracy before it must choose between destroying a dissident political organization, or in the process of doing so, the very fabric of constitutional democracy.

It is the conclusion of this dissertation that the federal government was forced to suspend temporarily its most egregious actions directed at destroying the BPP, but that these measures pose an ever-present danger of recurrence to dissident political organizations with perceptions of the government similar to those of the BPP.

 

B. Methodology

The basic methodological approach to the problem to be examined is one requiring the identification of a number of particular response patterns to particular forms of dissent. The basic materials used are over 8,000 250-page volumes of recently released reports and "intelligence" information. This information was collected by various police and government agencies and has been used against a number of activists and dissenters who were believed to pose a threat to the existing order. An effort is made to compare empirical evidence accrued from the writer's own participation and observation to the statements and recorded experiences of similarly situated participant-observers.

Objectivity is in every instance strived for, but it is in no instance guaranteed due to the observer's proximity to much of what is found to be characteristic of those patterns most fruitful to observe. A substantial amount of material gathered in personal interviews and taken from sworn depositions and trial statements made under oath is used in the construction of analyses.

As stated above, this study is presented in a historical manner. This style was chosen in order to develop an analysis of repression by the use of chronological fact. In this way, repression cannot be viewed as a new and unsophisticated set of tactics developed for only an isolated group or individual.

It is germane to this study, however, that of the dissident groups which were established in the last twenty years, the Black Panther Party was singled out for concerted, consistent, and violent attack, harassment, and media abuse. In early 1969, then U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell stated that the Justice Department would "wipe out the Black Panther Party by the end of 1969."12 Edward V. Hanrahan, Cook County's former state attorney in Chicago, when asked about the murder of Fred Hampton, which Hanrahan authorized, stated that it was "justified because of the vicious activities of the Black Panther Party."13

These pages do not reflect the personal pain and anguish, the resulting physical and emotional disabilities, as well as the continual financial setbacks the writer has suffered. However, a sensitive person can infer these things from the study. Such an overwhelming number of incidents occurred that it is difficult to imagine that anyone living during this period of history was not affected. The participant-observer has been shot, ambushed, followed, and verbally and physically threatened and abused. His wife and family are under constant surveillance and also have been attacked and threatened. In every apartment or home in which he has lived since 1966, the premises have been burglarized, searched, and bugged (as was his bedroom in an apartment in Oakland, California, in 1974). In addition, mail has been intercepted or received already opened. Far more devastating are the brutal deaths of the writer's personal friends: Bobby Hutton, murdered by the Oakland police in 1968; Alprentice Carter, murdered in Los Angeles in 1969 by men working in association with the FBI; and George Jackson, who was murdered at San Quentin Prison in 1971. The participant-observer has spent a total of three years (1967—1970) in prison, has been arrested numerous times, has spent the last thirteen years in court (an average of two trials per year), and from 1974 to 1977 was in involuntary exile as a protection from physical abuse and death. All of these incidents of the writer's knowledge of repression are intended to substantiate the chronology's factual information from a personal view. The participant-observer, in addition, is the leading and founding member of the organization, said to be "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country."14 Although it may seem that the writer is somewhat disadvantaged because of his proximity to the events discussed in this study, it is this very proximity that gives clarity to the specific conflict discussed. Finally, this study attempts to explain why the beliefs of the Black Panther Party and those of the American government and its intelligence agencies have resulted in continuing conflict.


1 The most concisely stated and meaningful assumptions of American democracy having a direct bearing on the well-being and future of the American people were manifested in the first ten amendments to the Constitution, upon which the new American government was founded. Consistent with their importance, the new government, it is generally agreed, may have faced ratification problems of indefinite duration without the inclusion of the ten amendments to the Bill of Rights. As it were, their inclusion eased and finally assured the ratification of the new Constitution.

2 Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. George Lawrence (New York: Harper & Row, 1966).

3 See the debate on this issue at the Constitutional Convention. (Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It, New York: Knopf, 1948).

4 Ibid. See also "To the Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention: September 5, 1970," in Huey P. Newton, To Die for the People (New York: Random House, 1972), pp. 156—162. [Publisher's note—New York: Writers and Readers, 1995.]

5 Hugh Davis Graham and Ted Robert Garr, eds., The History of Violence in America: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (New York: Praeger, 1969).

6 See e.g., Oliver C Cox, Caste, Class, and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics (New York Monthly Review Press, 1959).

7 See Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein, The Final Days (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1976) for both a detailed and general account of the use of such tactics against American dissenters. See also U.S. Congress. House. United States Presidents, 1969—1974 (Nixon). Submission of Recorded Presidential Conversations to the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives by President Richard M. Nixon: April 30, 1974 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1974), 1308.

8 Both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson are known to have made use of unlawful and unfair "tricks" designed to undermine and/or deceive those in opposition to their policies.

9 William Kornhauser, The Politics of Mass Society (Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press, 1959).

10 For a fuller explanation of revolutionary intercommunalism, see p. 33—36. See also, Newton, To Die for the People, pp. 22—32, and Erik H. Erikson and Huey P. Newton, In Search of Common Ground (New York: W.W. Norton ,1973), pp. 23—36.

11 FBI Memorandum from Headquarters to All Special Agents in Charge, August 25, 1967. Hereinafter "Hqtrs" and "SAC" will be used to refer to Headquarters and Special Agents in Charge, respectively.

12 Newsweek February 1969.

13 Time, December 12, 1969, p. 20.

14 J. Edgar Hoover, quoted in U.S. Congress. Senate. Book III: Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 94th Cong., 2nd sess.,1976, p. 187.

 

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